Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Is a Day Without Work Too Much To Ask?

Chapter 10: The People-First Life Part 13

Now that you are saying no to your boss, I suggest that you work towards a six day work week. One day with no email and no phone calls. I know, there is a perception that we are all expected to be on call all the time. Sometimes this is reality, but more often it is merely perception.

When I was interviewing people for the book, I sometimes pushed to understand why someone was working every day. Some people said “Don’t blame the company, I’m choosing to do this.”  I would smile and nod, but I wanted to scream “Yes, that proves my point! You are choosing to work all the time!” The other common answer went something like this “The more senior you are, the more there is an expectation that you need to be available 24/7.” Again I nodded, but inside I was thinking of the CEOs and senior VPs I interviewed who said that they felt a day away from work was critical to their success.

I’ve defined corporate idolatry as a company-first or work-first value system. And people who are caught up in corporate idolatry create illusions that support he company-first lifestyle. I think both of the arguments above are indicators of corporate idolatry.

Way back in Chapter 2, I pointed out that the first two of the Ten Commandments are prohibitions against idolatry. The Fourth Commandment instructs us to “Keep the Sabbath,” a day without work. Did you know that some Rabbis argue that the most important holiday in Judaism is the Sabbath? Yes, we are commanded to take a holiday every week. It was heresy in the pagan world.

For example, the Greeks and Romans criticized the Jews for the Sabbath, because leisure was something for the upper classes only, not to be shared with common workers. In an ironic twist, the corporate idolators of today think that the more senior are expected to work more than junior employees.

Is there a competitive advantage for a business that has people working seven days a week?

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The Secret To Saying No To Your Boss Is To Say Yes To Someone More Important

Chapter 10: The People First Life Part 12

Most of the time, your boss is the single most important person to you at your job. And given our propensity to obey authority figures, it is especially hard to say no to the boss – after all, it is part of your job to work on what they tell you to work on. And if you like the boss and like the company, saying no is even harder.

The trick to saying no in the post-idolatry world is to remember that work is no higher than the third priority in your life. If you are a believer, I don’t need to tell you that God is more important than work. And if you aren’t a believer, your health and the people in your life are more important than work.

So when your boss asks you to do something that you want to say no to, think of someone more important in your life, e.g a spouse, a child, or a friend. Now give that other person in your life more authority than your boss. If you say yes to the boss and work longer hours,  it will take away from a more important part of your life.

Imagine this other person is inviting you to be with them. Maybe it is a hike, maybe it is having dinner, maybe it is just sitting together. Visualize how they look at you. They see you for the person you really are, and love you for it. And because they are more important to you than the company, your mind is clear.  You are in the moment with them, free from the mental chatter of the work world.

Say yes to the other person, and then let your boss down easy.

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Why It Is Hard To Say NO To the Boss?

Chapter 10: The People-First Life, Part 11

When the boss asks you to do something, it can be hard to say no.  But saying no is one of the most important career skills you can learn. (And here is a good article with some tips on how to say no to the boss.) Over the next few posts, I’ll share the secret of saying no to the boss. But first, lets review why it is so easy to say yes, even if we don’t want to.

Humans have a psychological predisposition to say yes to authority figures. I’ve included a video that  shows footage of the obedience experiments run by Stanley Milgram, a social psychologist at Yale in the sixties. Milgram showed that ordinary people will give painful electronic shocks to other people if instructed by an authority figure. Participants thought they were testing memory, and started giving shocks of increasing severity. The recipient (who was really an actor) began to cry out in pain and beg for the experiment to end.

How did people react?  Participants got upset, asked to quit, but the man in the white coat told them “the experiment requires you to continue.” The shock was given, again and again, even when the recipient started groaning and no longer spoke. Watch the video; it’s shocking.

So if random people will hurt other people because a stranger in a white coat told them to do so, how much stronger is the impulse to obey when it is your boss asking you to do something less dastardly?

Living a people-first life provides an escape from the blind obedience described by Milgram. I’ll explain in detail in the next post. As a hint, for every yes to the guy in the white coat, there was a no to the guy being shocked.

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The Corporate Ladder Or Jacob’s Ladder?

Chapter 10: The People First Life Part 10

Which is more important to you, getting promoted or living a good life? In the last post, I wrote that Marissa Mayer’s top three priorities are God, family, and Yahoo.  My top priorities are health, family, and my book.

I won’t pretend that it isn’t hard for me to keep the book from creeping ahead of the other two. One thing that helps me remember my priorities is the story of Jacob’s Ladder from the Bible, which ultimately is about values and priorities.

Jacob, (grandson of Abraham,) dreams of a ladder connecting heaven and earth. He sees angels going up and down the ladder, hears the voice of God, and awakens to say “surely the Lord is in this place.”[i]  I interpret this story to mean that God is not just up in heaven but resides down on earth as well. As I argued in Chapter 2, in Judaism God’s teachings can be summarized by the Golden Rule, which itself is a universal value that transcends religion or the belief in God. The Jewish version of the GR reads “That which is hateful to you, do not do to another.”

Jacob’s Ladder is the story of a man who changes his priorities to put other people ahead of his own needs. When he went to sleep, Jacob was a selfish young man, fleeing after stealing his older brother’s birthright. After the dream, he quite literally fathers the Hebrew nation.

So for me, life on Jacob’s Ladder means a life where people are the highest priority – in this world and at this time. Why wait for heaven to be happy? Life on Jacob’s Ladder will bring greater happiness today. For example, in Paula Davis-Laack’s article “10 Things Happy People Do Differently“, three of those things prioritize people and NONE suggest material gain as a strategy.

This doesn’t mean that that climbing the corporate ladder is a bad thing, only that people should be a higher priority if you want to be happy. And putting people first doesn’t mean that you won’t be successful. In fact, Jacob becomes very prosperous, with “large flocks, [servants,] and camels and donkeys.”

Father of a people, and a large flock?  It didn’t get much better than that in the ancient world. And it started when Jacob put his priorities in order.

Have you ever had a dream that influenced your life?

Marissa Mayer, Yahoo, and Idolatry

Chapter 10: The People-First Life Part 9

Busting Your Corporate Idol challenges each of us to make people a higher priority than the company.  The mishandled change to Yahoo’s telecommuting policy and the resulting backlash have a lot to teach about idolatry.

Was it Corporate Idolatry to remove the working from home benefit?

No.  Marissa Mayer, the Yahoo board, and many outside analysists perceive that radical change is needed to save the company.  While insensitively communiated to employees, more employees would be hurt if the company cannot turn around the trend of declining revenues.

Was it Corporate Idolatry for Marissa Mayer to build a nursery next to her office?

No.  Mayer was not doing what is best for the company, but rather was taking care of her own needs. In fact, Mayer has stated that her priorities are ‘God, family, and Yahoo! – in that order.’

CEOs always have extra perks. Mayer chose to use her perks to keep her son close to her. To me, this falls under the Rule of Self Preservation.

Mayer did, however, forget one of the leadership lessons shared by Robert Sutton in his book Good Boss, Bad Boss.  Namely, a good leader understands that everything they do comes under scrutiny. She’ll learn.

How about us?  Did we create an idol of Marissa Mayer?

Yes.  I think it was we who are guilty if idolatry, both when it comes to Mayer and Yahoo. Elissa Freeman captured it well in The Broad Side when she wrote “The decision to make Mayer the new face of feminism was ours, not hers. Yet, since her hiring, women have not been kind to Mayer.”

The anger and frustration with Mayer speak to the incredible longing for a better worklife balance among so many people. It speaks to the very real conflict experienced by many working woman who feel torn between career and family.  These normal and natural feelings become idolatry when we expect other people to solve these problems for us.

And in my opinion, we can’t expect the business world to solve a social problem.

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